Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Jidoka meets Jack Bauer

My son Matt, a Senior in High School, regaled us with a story last night that is both a clever practical joke and also illustrates all the principles of (how not to do) rapid error detection and correction, or jidoka.
It seems a few weeks back his history teacher passed around a sign-up sheet in class to take the Advance Placement (AP) exam for American History.  Many seniors do this, as a good grade often results in bypassing first year college classes.  The kids put down their names, with one addition.  One boy scribbled down the name "Jack Bauer," though there was no Jack Bauer in the class nor in Matt's High School. 
If, unlike me, you are aware of pop culture, you will immediately recognize "Jack Bauer" as the name of the lead character in the popular TV series "24."  No, Jack Bauer is not a HS kid.
The ruse succeeded at this early stage, however, because the history teacher took the sign-up sheet, unexamined, to the counselor's office.  The counselor proceeded to compile all the AP exam requests and submitted the full list to the testing authority.  And so, amongst the regular college-bound kids' names was the yet-unchallenged "Jack Bauer."
After the submission, the school counselor began to wonder just who this Jack Bauer was.  Rather than walk to the history teacher's room and ask, however, he did what is now the standard response to most questions; he consulted the computer.  He assumed that Jack Bauer was a student at another school who was coming to our school just to take the AP exam.  Working on that assumption, he queried a list of all Indiana high school Seniors and indeed found a young man in a school in Indianapolis with a name that was similar to, but not exactly, "Jack Bauer."  So, he left a voice mail message at that school, asking if that kid was indeed making the 75 minute drive to take the AP exam.  Never mind the fact that there are at least 20 high schools in Indianapolis where this kid could have taken the same AP exam far more conveniently.  That school never responded, however, and the counselor didn't follow up further.  The ruse continued to live on. 
Only when the official paperwork and test booklets arrived from the testing authority last week did school officials dig into just who this "Jack Bauer" really was and where he was coming from.  Only then did they realize the whole thing was a hoax which had quietly gone on for weeks.  The kid who set it all off acknowledged he did it and school officials asked him to pay the $15 test cancellation fee.  The kid paid and, I suspect, figured it was well worth it for such a good story.  Thinking back on my own high school years, I would agree.  And, hey, the story even made it to this blog!
In a humorous way, this shows what happens when we don't check errors where and when they can possibly occur.  The history teacher was remiss in not looking at the list he had just passed around the class, a small class in which he knew there was no "Jack Bauer."  The school counselor was remiss in not simply trusting his instinct and walking to talk to the history teacher, preferably with the original sign-up sheet in hand.  Further, his "assumptions" about intent only justified his inaction further.  The error persisted for weeks and caused waste of paperwork that probably far exceeded the $15 the kid finally ponied up for the cancellation fee. 
Follow your gut...check the error...now.  And keep on Learning. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The "problem" could have been even more thoroughly avoided: send around a sign-up sheet that consists of a list of the students' names, and ask them to sign next to their own name. A poke-yoke to avoid a joke!